The recent talk about the importance of formal analysis in film criticism hits close to home with Samuel Fuller. His movies are clearly his … there is a Samuel Fuller style (Produced, Written, and Directed By), and oftentimes, that style is a big part of whatever success a Fuller film brings us. In fact, Fuller’s in-your-face filmmaking can bulldoze over any inadequacies you might encounter, be it a tiny budget or actors of varying quality or dialogue that is a verbal equivalent of the close-ups Fuller loves so much.
All of which is a way of saying that Shock Corridor is a fascinating movie that succeeds in clobbering the viewer, even considering some of the quieter moments, because Fuller likes clobbering. In his autobiography, he wrote, “It had the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I was dealing with insanity, racism, patriotism, nuclear warfare, and sexual perversion. How could I have been light with those topics? I purposefully wanted to provoke the audience. … My madhouse was a metaphor for America.”
Fuller does indeed stick all of that stuff into Shock Corridor. I’d argue that it is over-stuffed, but that stuffing works in line with Fuller’s style. He doesn’t take on more than he can chew, he just gets down to chewing. He takes one small set and a dinky budget, and refuses to make a small picture.
Some of the psychiatric mumbo-jumbo is dated, and the template for the actors in the asylum is too simple (act normal, start screaming, quit screaming). It’s hard to blame some of those actors for being too obvious, when the man behind the film brags about the lack of subtlety. Constance Towers does the best, it’s fun to see Larry Tucker before he became “Mazursky and Tucker”, and the key characters in the mental hospital are touching in their few moments of lucidity.
Give Fuller an A for effort, an A for his commitment to his vision, but don’t let that obscure the silly plot and the way the energy which makes Shock Corridor exciting also makes it draining, not in a good way. #570 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For another example of Fuller working with Towers, try The Naked Kiss.